Fallen Flags, The Classic American Railroad

Fallen Flags, a name all too common now describing American railroads (just a bittersweet fact of the free market at work), is a term describing those railroads whose corporate name has been dissolved either through merger, bankruptcy, or liquidation. At one time in the United States there were nearly 140 Class I railroads (or those with at least $1 million annual operating revenue at that time) and today these are commonly known as the fallen flags or “classic” railroads. The older folks reading this can remember almost all of these in person, from the legendary Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway with its famous Warbonnet paint scheme to the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad and this country’s first common carrier, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. 

Milwaukee Road Little Joe E21 powers an eastbound manifest freight as the train climbs out of Avery, Idaho along the St. Joe River during August of 1971.

Most of the classic roads remembered today operated roughly until the 1970s before bankruptcy and mass-mergers (which began in the 1950s with the Norfolk & Western purchase of the Virginian Railway) did many in and dwindled the Class I numbers to just a handful. While the glory days of railroads (when they were earning the most profits) extended from roughly the late 19th century to just after WWII, ask most railfans and the time period with which these railroads are best remembered extends from roughly the 1940s to the 1970s when the railroads began switching from steam locomotives to diesel-electrics (commonly known as “diesels”) and paint schemes and emblems abounded, giving each company its own, personal identity with which folks could relate to. 

Much of this "bonding" came from the fact that railroads during those days operated in a particular region or part of the country where folks could easily recognize the system which ran through their town (and to some extent, railroads back then used to be a bit more cordial than today), and not the entire eastern or western half of the country like we see today (for instance, some small towns boasted four to five Class Is at one time!). It should be noted however, that many of the lines we recognize today as classics either did not start out that way or were "mega-mergers" themselves through purchase or takeover of other, smaller systems. Examples of these companies include the New York Central, Reading, New Haven, Atlantic Coast Line, Missouri Pacific, and many others. 


The "Alphabet Route" Including The NKP/W&LE/P&WV/WM/Reading/CNJ/L&HR/New Haven 

Baltimore & Ohio, "Linking 13 Great States With The Nation" 

Bangor & Aroostook, "Serving Northern Maine"

Bessemer & Lake Erie, "The Bessemer Route"

Boston & Maine, "Route Of The Minute Man" 

Buffalo Creek & Gauley, West Virginia's Fabled Short Line

Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh, "Safety & Service"

Canadian National, "The People's Railway" (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.) 

Canadian Pacific, "Spans The World" (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.) 

Central Railroad of New Jersey, "The Big Little Railroad"

Central Vermont, "The Green Mountain Route" 

Chesapeake & Ohio, "George Washington's Railroad" 

Chessie System: Comprising The B&O, C&O, And WM 

Consolidated Rail Corporation, "Conrail" 

Delaware & Hudson, "The Bridge Line" 

Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, "The Route Of Phoebe Snow"

Erie Railroad, "Serving The Heart Of Industrial America" 

Erie Lackawanna, "The Friendly Service Route" 

Lehigh & Hudson River, "The Bridge Route"

Lehigh & New England, "Industry's Freight Route" 

Lehigh Valley, "Route Of The Black Diamond" 

Long Island Rail Road, "Route Of The Dashing Commuter" (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.) 

Maine Central, "The Pine Tree Route" 

Maryland & Pennsylvania, "The Famous Ma & Pa" 

Monongahela Railway, "The Biggest Little Coal Carrier" 

New York Central System, "The Water Level Route" 

New York, New Haven & Hartford, "The Friendly New Haven Railroad" 

New York, Ontario & Western, "Route Of The Mountaineer"

Pennsylvania Railroad, "The Standard Railroad Of The World" 

Penn Central Transportation Company, "High Speed Service" 

Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines, Providing Commuter Service Across Southern New Jersey 

Pittsburgh & Lake Erie "The Little Giant" 

Pittsburgh & West Virginia "The Hi-Line" 

Reading Lines, "Bee Line Service" 

Rutland Railroad, "The Green Mountain Gateway" 

West Virginia Northern, Mountain State Coal Hauler 

Western Maryland, "The Fast Freight Line" 

Katy GP40 #180 leads several other Geeps as they roll through Coupland, Texas with a work train on a bright summer day in July of 1977.

In truth, there were actually few now well-known systems that constructed much of their own network or key main routes; it was much less costly to simply purchase smaller lines. In general, many fabled lines gained their names during either the late 19th or early 20th centuries. A few, like the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio system were not created until the 1930s. In any event, today nearly all of those classic companies are gone except for just a few (the Union Pacific is perhaps the most notable along with the Kansas City Southern and the roads up north, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National), although their legends and names will always live on. 


Atlantic Coast Line, "Standard Railroad Of The South"

Central of Georgia, "The Right Way" 

Clinchfield Railroad, "Quick Service-Short Route" 

Family Lines System 

Florida East Coast, "Speedway To Sunshine" (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.) 

Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, "The Rebel Route"

Interstate Railroad, Southwestern Virginia's Coal-Hauler 

Louisville & Nashville, "The Old Reliable"

Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis, "The Dixie Line"

Norfolk & Western, "Precision Transportation"

Norfolk, Franklin & Danville, Successor To The Atlantic & Danville

Original Norfolk Southern, "East Carolina Dispatch"

Shamrock Coal Company's, "Oneida & Western" 

Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac, "Linking North & South" 

Seaboard Air Line, "Through The Heart Of The South"

Seaboard Coast Line, "We're Pulling For You"

Southern Railway, "Look Ahead - Look South" 

Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia Railway, "The TAG Route" 

Tennessee Central Railway, "The Nashville Route" 

Virginian Railway, Hauling Black Diamonds 

The West Point Route:  The Georgia Railroad/Atlanta & West Point/Western Railway Of Alabama 

Union Pacific 4-8-4 #8444 heads up Ross Rowland's Gold Spike Special on May 10th, 1969 as it rolls southbound through Ogden, Utah. The train is headed to Promontory for the centennial of the Transcontinental Railroad's completion.

Of course, aside from former Class Is (about the only classic lines featured here) other, smaller historic railroads can still be found in service with names like the Ann Arbor, Escanaba & Lake Superior, Claremont Concord, Wheeling & Lake Erie, New York Susquehanna & Western, Florida East Coast, Winchester & Western, Apache Railway, Toledo Peoria & Western, and many more.  Here within this page you will find information on some of the best remembered describing each in more detail and broken down into the territory where they operated (i.e., east, west, north, south). Since the website first debuted I have finally had the chance to feature many of these lines although I realize that some are still omitted. As time allows in the future I will look to cover these companies although as it currently stands there are more than 100 highlighted. 


Akron, Canton & Youngstown, "Ohio's Road Of Service"

Algoma Central Railway, "The Agawa Canyon Route" 

Belt Railway of Chicago, The Windy City's Noted Belt Road (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.) 

Chicago, Aurora & Elgin, "The Roarin' Elgin"

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, "Everywhere West"

Chicago & Eastern Illinois, "Speed-Efficiency-Service"

Chicago & Illinois Midland, Central Illinois's Coal Road 

Chicago & North Western, "Route Of The '400'"

Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, "Route Of The Rockets"

Chicago & Western Indiana, Serving Dearborn Station 

Chicago Great Western, "The Corn Belt Route" 

Chicago, South Shore & South Bend, "The South Shore Line" (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.) 

Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern, Midwestern Regional 

Detroit & Mackinac Railway, "The Turtle Line"

Detroit, Toledo & Ironton, "We Have The Connections"

Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range, "The Missabe Road" 

Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific, "Delivered With Pride"

Elgin, Joliet & Eastern, "The Chicago Outer Belt"

Gateway Western Railway, Operating The Former Chicago & Alton 

Green Bay & Western, "The Green Bay Route" 

Grand Trunk Western, "The Good Track Road" 

Illinois Central, "The Main Line Of Mid-America" 

Illinois Terminal, "The Road Of Personalized Services" 

Indiana Harbor Belt, "Connects With All Chicago Railroads" (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.) 

Iowa, Chicago & Eastern, A Division Of The DM&E

Kansas City Southern, "Route Of The Southern Belle" (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.) 

Lake Superior & Ishpeming, Upper Peninsula Ore Hauler (This railroad is still operating but placed here because of its historical significance.) 

Minneapolis & St. Louis, "The Peoria Gateway" 

Minneapolis, Northfield & Southern, "The Dan Patch Line" 

Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville (Monon), "The Hoosier Line" 

New York, Chicago & St. Louis (Nickel Plate Road), "High Speed Service" 

Pere Marquette Railway, Michigan's Own Road 

Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie, "The Soo Line" 

St. Louis Southwestern, "The Cotton Belt Route" 

Toledo, Peoria & Western, "Links East And West" (This railroad is still operating but is placed here because of its historical significance.) 

Wabash, "Follow The Flag" 

Wisconsin Central Railway, Reclaiming Its Heritage

Western Pacific FP7 #804-D is at speed as it leads the California Zephyr through Livermore, California during February of 1970. To the left is the now-abandoned Southern Pacific line through Niles Canyon.


Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (The Santa Fe), "Ship And Travel Santa Fe, All The Way" 

Central Pacific, Forming The Transcontinental Railroad 

Colorado & Southern, From Wyoming To Texas 

Denver & Rio Grande Western, "Mainline Thru The Rockies"

El Paso & Southwestern, "The Southwestern Route" 

The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, "The Katy"

Missouri Pacific, "Route Of The Eagles"

St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, "Ship It On The Frisco!" 

Southern Pacific, "The Friendly Southern Pacific" 

Union Pacific, "Be Specific - Ship Union Pacific" (This railroad is still operating, it is placed here because of its long and storied history.) 

A former Burlington SD7 leads a short cut of hoppers along the main line at Eola, Illinois while a "Dinky" commuter consist can be seen to the right during the early Burlington Northern era on August 31, 1970.


Burlington Northern, The West's First Mega-Railroad 

Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific (The Milwaukee Road), "Route Of The Hiawathas" 

Milwaukee Road's Pacific Coast Extension, Providing The Only Service From Chicago To The Puget Sound 

Great Northern, "Go Great - Go Great Northern" 

Northern Pacific, "Main Street Of The North West" 

Pacific Electric Railway, "Comfort-Speed-Safety"

Spokane International, Connecting Spokane With The Canadian Border 

Spokane, Portland & Seattle, "The Northwest's Own Railway"

Western Pacific, "Feather River Route" 

Yakima Valley Transportation: Serving Yakima, Washington 

A pair of Rock Island E8A's led by #660 lead a passenger consist out of Chicago's LaSalle Street Station on the evening of March 30, 1971. The railroad would shutdown and liquidate nearly a decade later during March of 1980.

Canadian Lines

Pacific Great Eastern/British Columbia Railway 

Northern Alberta Railways 

Railway Express Agency, Providing Shipping By Rail (The REA was not an operating railroad but was an integral part of the railroad industry during the "golden age" when all of the classic systems were in operation.) 

The Rio Grande's fabled narrow-gauge lines were nearing their end when this scene was captured on August 28, 1968 showing Mike K-37 #498 heading an eastbound freight away from Durango. This stretch of the route is now abandoned.

You may notice that Canadian National and Canadian Pacific are now included in the website. After giving it much thought the two lines have played too significant of a role in the railroad industry's history, especially in its current and future state, to be left out and unmentioned. For instance several are now of Canadian ownership/control such as the Soo Line (and indirectly the Milwaukee Road through the Soo's takeover by CP), Delaware & Hudson Railway, Illinois Central, Grand Trunk Western, Central Vermont, and the Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific Railway. Lastly, for more reading about many classic short lines like the Durham & Southern, Magma Arizona, Camas Prairie, please click here.

Related Reading You May Enjoy

Top Of Page

› Fallen Flags

Popular Fall Events

Fall Foliage Trips

Halloween Specials

Other Favorite Topics

Job Information

Passenger Train Travel, A State Guide

A History Of Fallen Flags

A Short Line Railroad Guide